With the release of Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria on the horizon, let’s take a look at the original film that inspired it.
Synopsis: An American newcomer to a prestigious German ballet academy comes to realize that the school is a front for something sinister amid a series of grisly murders. (IMDB)
Starring: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, and Flavio Bucci
Writers: Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi
Director: Dario Argento
Rating: R (Canada/United States)
Running Time: 92mins
Now despite the fact that this film is now 41 years old, it still holds up surprisingly well. Considered a horror classic, it’s easy to see why after watching it. This arguably was due to its ability to do so much with so little. For those who don’t know, the story here was about an American ballet dancer named Suzy Bannion (Harper) who joins a German ballet that may indeed be more than it seemed. This was a rather simple story thread that has been told countless times in countless films but it was this simplicity that made it so compelling to watch.
With a running time of just over 90 minutes, it doesn’t waste any time at crafting its narrative. A palpable sense of tension and a creepy atmosphere was there from the start and never relented. It achieves this through its use of color, cinematography, and sound, though not in a predictable manner for the most part but rather in a way that builds up over the course of the film. However, this all happens at a pace that may be too slow or eventful enough for some. Not much admittedly happens as the film choses a more psychological approach, focusing on getting under your skin while still throwing some jump scares at you along the way.
The story saw Bannion trying to fit in with her new surroundings all while murders were taking place nearby. It may have not been clear as to what was going on but it was clear that the dance academy was somehow involved. When the film goes there which wasn’t often, it goes there with some amazing sequences that certainly won’t be for the faint of heart. As mentioned, this was still a 41 year old film and it showed in certain aspects. The special effects definitely showed their age to the point of being distracting from the action on screen. Also, the dialog was more on the awkward side due to some haphazard dubbing. While distracting at first, it is easy to get used to.
The best part of the film was Harper’s performance as Bannion. Bannion fit right in with all the other great female horror leads and her growth as a character was compelling to watch. It may have taken a little longer to get going but she was trapped in a nightmare that she may not ever get out of. The slow leadoff to the eventual reveal and the inevitable end to the story were both satisfying to watch.
Overall, this was a great retro horror film with a simple yet effective story full of tension and a creepy atmosphere that effectively gets under your skin while throwing in the occasional jump scare for good measure. It’s a slow burn that may take too long to get going for some but it delivers with an ending that satisfies. It is definitely deserving of its classic status and is definitely worth the watch for horror purists or simply film fans wanting a history lesson.